Photos by Stephanie Rivera.
Mayor Robert Garcia was joined by Councilmembers Roberto Uranga and Jeannine Pearce Tuesday morning at Century Villages at Cabrillo for a rally in support of Measure H, which, if approved by voters in March, would raise the county’s sales tax rate by a quarter-cent to fund efforts to combat homelessness.
The rally comes just two weeks after the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously to support Measure H, the Los Angeles County Plan to Prevent and Combat Homelessness.
“We know that this measure could really help 45,000 families that are currently right now experiencing homelessness and Measure H should be viewed as an investment,” Garcia said. “This is an investment that will actually save taxpayers resources as we move forward because we all know the amount of dollars that are being spent in our emergency rooms, in our hospitals and currently the crisis that we’re in today.”
The proposed Measure H is projected to create over $350 million annually over the 10-year life of the increase, which would help shrink the estimated $450 million in annual need that is currently unfunded. The vote would require two-thirds approval by voters to pass.
Due to state law and the current sales tax level, the City of Long Beach would not experience an increase in sales tax under Measure H until 2023, and then it would be offset by the reduction in Measure A, the temporary sales tax in Long Beach that supports public safety and infrastructure, city officials previously stated.
While results from this year’s Homeless Count are not out yet, the city’s Director of Health and Human Services Kelly Colopy said in 2015 Long Beach had 2,300 people living on the street. Of those people, 731 were chronic homeless and of those, almost one-third had mental illness with 20 percent needing substance abuse treatment.
“So when you think about just those reports, to be able to be housed, we really need to be focusing not just on the housing piece but on the supports that go with it,” Colopy said.
Dr. Michael Forte, a military veteran, talks about his homeless experience when he moved from Oklahoma City to California in search of a neurosurgeon for a fatal condition with which he was stricken. “I came to the Villages and there I found the support, the encouragement and a place necessary and needed that allowed me to recover,” he said.
Long Beach is the second largest of the four continuum of care systems in the county, Colopy said, providing services across the city and coordinating housing and many support services for homeless people. She noted that the city’s Multi-Service Center sees almost 14,000 clientvisits a year and in the past year housed 780 individuals and families.
“It won't come as a surprise to anybody that people who are homeless are disproportionately affected by mental illness and substance abuse disorders,” said David A. Pilon, president and CEO of Mental Health America. “Mental Health America has been working with people experiencing homelessness for decades, and the approach we take with folks is to invest and believe in them even when they have come to a place out of desperation [...] we persist with them until they are ready to make that step and rejoin society.”